Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

August 19, 2007

Wikipedia Source Controversy

Filed under: culture — codesmithy @ 7:21 am

In the wake of the wikiscanner it turns out that some one with access to a computer on Fox News edited Wikipedia entries concerning Keith Olbermann, Al Franken. Here is a comprehensive list of changes. Wikipedia is routinely criticized as untrustworthy. Although, I remember spending long afternoons reading about the life and times of Anton LaVey founder of the Church of Satan or the obsessive compulsive hoarding of the Collyer Brothers.

Some people criticize it because they can’t get their heads around the idea that the “truth” is subject to change. It isn’t so much “truth” but our knowledge about it is subject to change. For example, Johannes Kepler believed that the Sun was the center of the solar system as opposed to the Earth. His argument was so convincing that it has become the dominant view. Even in our own lives, there may have been a time where we believed in Santa Claus and later came to reject it.

The underlying question is: why do people stop believing Santa Claus, if they believed in him in the first place? Was it because they were told by an older sibling? Or was it because, they didn’t understand how he could visit so many people in one night? Or how he could be at two shopping malls at the same time? Or how did he know that they were naughty or nice?

I think the basis of the rejection is important. If a person believes in Santa Claus because at one point they are told that he exists and stops believing when they are told that he doesn’t exist; they’ve missed the point. I do not believe truth exists from revelation or special sanction. Truth is available to us all, equally, based on observation and logic. Honest and open forums of debate vet available knowledge and help us achieve a more certain truth.

Wikipedia is not the most authoritative reference for any subject on the Internet, in spite of its ranking on Google. It never claimed to be, and there are frequently all sorts of warnings on a page about disputes or citing problems. But, the appeal is that when you find something wrong, you can fix it. Outright rejection of Wikipedia and its underlying ideas is a rejection of egalitarianism. It is a rejection of debate and observable truth in favor of the view that knowledge and truth require special sanction. Yes, people will abuse it. However, how quickly those edits were reverted is also instructive.

Wikipedia is still nascent, and it may take decades to reach its full potential. But, rejecting it now because it is erroneous is short-sighted. The beauty of the system is that one is not just a passive consumer of knowledge, but can also be an active contributor, and that transition has historically been proven to be key to progress.

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